Guinea - Encyclopedia Information
Official name Republic of Guinea
Formation 1958 / 1958
Population 10.3 million / 109 people per sq mile (42 people per sq km)
Total area 94,925 sq. miles (245,857 sq. km)
Languages Pulaar, Malinké, Soussou, French*
Religions Muslim 85%, Christian 8%, Traditional beliefs 7%
Ethnic mix Peul 40%, Malinké 30%, Soussou 20%, Other 10%
Government Presidential system
Currency Guinea franc = 100 centimes
Literacy rate 40%
Calorie consumption 2529 kilocalories
The Republic of Guinea is a former French colony that was granted independence in 1958. In Africa the name guinea is generally used to refer to the west coast of the continent, which lies north of the Gulf of Guinea and south of the Sahara desert. In Berber guinea means “land of the blacks.” Berber is the language of the Berber ethnic group, which is a predominantly Muslim tribe.
Guinea has a long history of foreign rule. Between the 10th and 15th centuries, the region was a source of conflict among many rulers and became a part of the empires of Ghana, Songhai, and Mali, successively. The domination of the Mali Empire lasted for almost 200 years, from the 13th to the 15th centuries. Toward the end of the 15th century, Fulani herders began settling in the region, and they brought with them the teachings of Islam. In 1725 after an Islamic holy war, the region came under Fulani rule.
The Portuguese also made their presence felt in the region about this time and opened the doors for other European powers, principally France and Britain, who turned the region into a major slave-trade center. The Europeans profited immensely by selling black Guineans as slaves.
In 1849 the French declared the region a French protectorate, thus becoming another foreign ruler and adding yet another chapter to Guinea’s colonial history. The Guineans, however, made it difficult for the French to maintain control over their country. Samory Tourй (c. 1830–1900), a Malinke warlord and great freedom fighter, led his army against the French and fought for Guinea’s independence. When he was defeated and captured in 1898 French domination was finally assured. However voices of dissent continued to echo in the Fouta Djalon region.
In the 19th and 20th centuries France entered into negotiations with the British for Sierra Leone and with the Portuguese for their Guinea colony (which is present-day Guinea-Bissau), in order to clarify the boundaries of Guinea.
After negotiations the territory of Guinea came into existence, and a governor-general was appointed for administrative purposes.
After World War II the independence movements in other African countries inspired the people of Guinea and gave impetus to their own struggle for freedom. Ahmed Sekou Tourй (1922–84), a descendant of the famed freedom fighter Samory Tourй, became the head of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and won overwhelmingly in the territorial elections held in 1957. A plebiscite took place in September 1958, and the people of Guinea voted against the proposed membership in the French Community. France withdrew its forces from the region and on October 2, 1958, the independent and sovereign Republic of Guinea came into existence.
Under Ahmed Sekou Tourй the country became a one-party dictatorship; all opposition parties were banned. There was widespread corruption, and the economy was soon in a shambles. Human rights violations were rampant, and there was no freedom of expression. Ethnic violence also increased since preference was given to the Malinke people (Tourй was of Malinke origin) in hiring, while candidates of other ethnic groups were rejected.
Opposition leaders were imprisoned and dissent was brutally crushed. In 1970 after the Portuguese- led invasion of the Republic of Guinea failed, Sekou Tourй became obsessed with the idea that people, both within Guinea as well as in foreign countries, were trying to displace him. As a result relations with both European and other African countries suffered a setback, and Guinea was completely isolated. Sekou Tourй’s oppressive policies continued, and he displayed an utter disregard for human life. Millions of Guineans were forced into exile, and those within Guinea suffered at the hands of the repressive regime.
On March 26, 1984, Sekou Tourй died, and on April 3, 1984, a military junta, led by Lieutenant Colonel Lansana Contй (b. 1934), assumed control of the Republic of Guinea.
GEOGRAPHY AND CLIMATE
Located in the western part of Africa, the Republic of Guinea is flanked by Senegal, Mali, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Cфte-d’Ivoire, and the North Atlantic Ocean. Conakry is the capital of the Republic of Guinea.
The Republic of Guinea has a temperate climate, lofty mountains, and high plateaus. Topographically, Guinea is divided into four main regions: Lower Guinea, the narrow coastal belt region; Middle Guinea, which is mostly pastoral highlands; Upper Guinea, characterized by the northern savannah (grasslands dotted with trees); and Forest Guinea, the southeastern rain forest region.
As one of the wettest countries on the African continent, the region’s climate is mostly tropical.
The coastal regions have substantial rainfall. April and May are the hottest months with temperatures averaging 90єF.
The Republic of Guinea is richly endowed with minerals, and it is estimated that the country has one-third of the world’s bauxite reserves (including substantial deposits of iron, as well as gold, diamonds, and undetermined uranium deposits). Mining is the main source of Guinea’s foreign trade, and bauxite alone accounts for 80 percent of the country’s foreign revenue. The only hindrance to the country’s economic growth is its poor infrastructure, which has proven a major obstacle to attracting foreign investment.
Although the economy suffered immensely under Ahmed Sekou Tourй’s regime, the economic reforms of the late 1980s provided the much-needed impetus for the economy to get back on track. There is immense potential for agricultural and fishing activity, and if developed properly the revenue from these industries could provide a major stimulus for Guinea’s economy.
Guinea is a source, transit, and destination country for women and children trafficked for the purposes of sexual exploitation and forced labor.
Guinean girls are trafficked internally as domestic servants and boys for shoe shining and street vending.
Women and girls are trafficked to Cфte d’Ivoire, Benin, Senegal, Nigeria, South Africa, Spain, and Greece for sexual exploitation.
CULTURE AND LIFESTYLE
In Guinea there are three prominent ethnic groups: the Fulani (also known as Peuhl or Fula), who inhabit Fouta Djalon; the Malinke (also known as Madingo), who inhabit the savannah and forest regions; and the Soussous, the people of the coastal areas. Other ethnic groups of the forest include the Toma and Gerze.
French is the official language of Guinea, but people prefer to speak their native languages.
Malinke is widely spoken in the north while Fula is spoken in the Fouta Djalon region. Sou is spoken in the region south of Conakry.
Almost 85 percent of the Guinean population is Muslim, and 8 percent is Christian. However in the rural areas, ethnic groups still adhere to indigenous beliefs and continue to observe their ancient traditions and spiritual beliefs.
Music is an integral part of Guinean culture. The traditional music is enormously popular, and Guinea has adapted Western musical instruments to play traditional tunes. Western music is also popular. Drumming is the most popular form of music among the tribesmen. Drums are played in all important ceremonies, including those involving rites of passage.
As in most West African countries, rice and maize (corn) are the staples of the traditional Guinean diet.
It is often combined with grilled fish or chicken and served with a spicy sauce. Guinea hens are usually seasoned with paprika and cayenne pepper, stewed with plantains, tomatoes, or yams, and served with rice. Pastries, cakes, pizzas, and hamburgers are a part of the urban diet, and French-style patisseries are found all over Conakry.
The birth of a baby is celebrated with great joy and happiness, since a child is considered a gift from God in Guinean society. Although there are no special rituals a lavish feast is prepared, and all the members of the extended family, as well as friends and villagers, are invited to celebrate. Guinean women trust midwives to ensure safe and less painful births.
COMING OF AGE
Female genital mutilation (FGM), or female “circumcision,” continues to be widely practiced in the Republic of Guinea even though it is illegal.
Between 70 and 90 percent of Guinean women undergo this ritual either willingly or forcibly, without distinction as to ethnicity, religion, or region. A highly controversial practice, FGM is banned in many countries.
Boys are circumcised either at birth or as a part of an initiation ceremony, with less physical risk and long-term side effects than female genital cutting.
Among the Soussou and the Malinke tribes the coming of age ceremonies for male initiates take place during harvest time. A special dance ceremony is arranged, and the initiates, along with the village men, dance joyfully. Their dance movements are inspired by nature and include movements of birds and animals. The dance must reflect grace, strength, beauty, and intelligence since these are the most preferred qualities in African cultures.
Bride-price is an integral part of marriage in most West African nations, including Guinea. In most parts of Guinea, it is customary to offer kola nuts, as well as money, as part of the bride price. No negative connotation is attached to this practice. In fact it is believed that the groom’s family pays a bride price to the bride’s family as a token of appreciation for having brought up and nurtured the bride with affection and care.
A marriage is initiated when the suitor’s family sends kola nuts to the bride’s family. This serves as a proposal. If the bride’s family accepts the nuts, and the bride and her female relatives agree to the proposal, the groom and his family (mostly men from the extended family) are invited to the bride’s home.
After snacks and beverages are served to welcome the guests, negotiating the bride-price begins. If the suitor’s family agrees to pay the price, the couple is officially engaged. If not then the proposal is rejected. After the marriage ceremony the husband can take his wife home, but only if the bride-price has been paid. The bride price, however, is returned to the groom’s family after marriage in many parts of the region.
Among the Baga tribe, the bride sits in a hammock after the wedding. It is carried by four men above their heads during the journey from her parent’s house to her husband’s. People dance in front of the hammock, leading the bride to her new life.
For the 85 percent of the population that is Muslim, the laws of Islam govern their marriages. Free consent of the couple is required under Islamic law, and the marriage ceremony is presided over by an imam. Then in the presence of the fathers of the bride and groom, the priest asks the bride and groom separately if they are willing to accept each other as husband and wife. If the bride and groom agree, then the marriage is deemed legitimate.
Polygamy is practiced in the region and divorce laws favor men.
Since most Guineans are Muslims, they bury their dead according to Islamic law and traditional practice.
The dead body is washed and draped in a white shroud and taken to the mosque. Prayers are offered for the departed soul and his family. Then villagers bury the dead in the local cemetery. Belief in Allah and reincarnation help Guinean society accept death more easily.